Perfume is one of the greatest accessories we have when getting ready; it rounds off every outfit and keeps you feeling fresh and gorgeous all day long. No two perfumes are identical, which is why we have multiples in our collection – we can then choose the right one depending on our mood, the occasion, and the season. But what is it that makes a perfume unique?
Ingredients are the key to making a perfume unique. Perfumers use a wide array of different ingredients from common fruits to rare oriental resins. The choice of ingredients, how they’re blended, and what concentrations are used, all contribute to making each bottle unique.
We can also consider our skin type, which can subtly change the scent making it singularly unique to us. We’ll take a look at some unique (and bizarre) ingredients, rare ones to look out for as well as different examples of unique blends for you to try. We even have some tips on how to make your own perfume at home.
The Makeup Of Perfume
Before we dive head-first into ingredients and blends, let’s get some background information about the basic structure of perfume. The structure refers to the three sections, which you’ll hear a lot about as well as ‘notes’, which are just the ingredients used within the perfume.
Perfume is made up of three sections: the base, middle and top notes. Top notes are the first noticeable scent and will evaporate the quickest and they tend to include lighter notes that are naturally prone to fade faster. The middle notes last a bit longer and make up the body of the fragrance, but they also fade making room for the base notes. These stay on your skin the longest and tend to be heavier notes to last as long as possible.
Although the top and middle notes fade faster, some are still noticeable as the perfume dries. How long they last and what you can smell hours after the first spray will depend on the brand and ingredients used, which is why each perfume smells so different.
Unique But Commonly Used Fragrance Notes
We don’t tend to pay much attention to the ingredients in our perfumes, we tend to pick our favorites based on smell alone. Even if we did take a look at the fragrance notes, we would recognize most of the fruits, spices, and floral notes. However, there are some ingredients that are commonly used in perfumes but have unique origins, scents or you just wouldn’t expect to find them in perfume. Let’s take a look…
Ambergris is a very common perfume ingredient, so you may recognize the name (but you’ll never guess where it comes from!). It has a sweet, earthy, and mossy scent much like a damp forest floor, but it’s predominantly used as a fragrance enhancer. Ambergris is particularly long-lasting so it helps other notes last longer than they usually would alone. With multiple uses like this, it’s no wonder it’s so popular.
Ambergris itself is a waxy substance found in the digestive tract of sperm whales. Unsurprisingly, it’s predominantly produced synthetically nowadays, or another similar fragrance note is substituted. The synthetic recreation of ambergris is called ambroxan.
Perfumes such as Yves Saint Laurent – Exquisite Embroidery and Amouage – Amber contain ambergris.
Musk is another unique ingredient and is used more often than ambergris; you’ll find it in the vast majority of perfumes regardless of brand, type, or if it’s male, female, or unisex. This is another popular, potent, and long-lasting ingredient and the scent can vary depending on how it’s synthesized and used. It ranges from sweet and powdery to harsher and more metallic and it does a great job strengthening other notes.
Natural musk is obtained from the glands of a male deer but as the deer would normally be killed in the process, they are a protected species. These days, musk is produced synthetically or gathered from certain plants that emit the same scent.
Although you’ll find musk in varying quantities across pretty much all perfumes, Dolce & Gabanna – The One and Marc Jacobs – Daisy are gorgeous examples of perfumes that include musk.
Patchouli appears in the base notes across many perfumes; it’s sweet and earthy while adding a gorgeous depth and richness to perfumes. It developed a bad reputation as it was often used among certain groups to mask the scent of marijuana but over the years it has grown in popularity.
Patchouli blends with other earthy notes gorgeously but also complements citruses, florals, and fruits very well. It’s also found often in oriental scents and is paired with vanilla, amber, and tonka bean. It’s an incredibly versatile note that can round out a fragrance, make it darker and richer but without being overpowering.
Patchouli comes from a plant native to Southeast Asia so it can be hard to come by but that does not stop perfumers all over the world from using it regularly.
Many perfumes include patchouli including Clinique – Aromatics and Chanel – Coco Mademoiselle.
Unique And Uncommonly Used Fragrance Notes
Perfumes can be made with pretty much anything – fruits, flowers, herbs, and spices as well as woods, resins, and balms. That’s not even including other bizarre synthetic ingredients too. Even unusual fruits such as banana, guava, and coconut appear in big brand perfumes – I could list a hundred unusual notes, but I have settled for three that might surprise you…
I don’t think I’ve ever cooked carrots for a Sunday roast and thought ‘hmmm I’d love to have a perfume that smells like this’. Nonetheless, it’s actually more commonly used in perfumes than you’d think. Big brands such as Clinique, Lancome, Jo Malone, and Byredo all have fragrances within their collections that include carrot.
Carrot has a sweet, powdery, and earthy scent making it a great addition to oriental perfumes by heightening the aromatic spiciness. It also adds a twist of exotic sweetness to lighter floral fragrances and is all-around a heady and intoxicating note.
I know carrot was an unexpected fragrance note but caviar… fish eggs are not the first thing that springs to mind when considering perfume ingredients. However, it’s a surprisingly great and unique fragrance note that is used more often than you might think and is only increasing in popularity.
This is an intensely savory and salty note, which complements sweet, fruity fragrances perfectly. It’s predominantly used in men’s fragrances but pops up in women’s as well; brands like Mugler, Avon, Ghost, and Zara have used caviar in their perfumes.
This final ingredient may also surprise you! We all love that salty freshness of the sea air when we visit the beach, and this is exactly what perfumers are trying to capture when using seawater in fragrances. It evokes nostalgic childhood memories of holidays at the beach while also adding a savory freshness that calms sweet fragrances and complements spices.
These three ingredients are fairly obscure and used a lot more often than you would think but there are some downright weird notes that are occasionally used. Notes such as ash, coal, paper, oxygen, ice, metal, and fire are not what you’d typically think to use in perfumes… but they are! They would definitely give a fragrance the ‘unique’ label.
Rare And Expensive Perfume Ingredients
We’ve looked at uncommon, unique, and slightly obscure perfume ingredients but now let’s take a look at some rare and expensive ones. Rare and expensive tend to go hand in hand because the rarer the ingredient is, the more expensive it’ll be. If you think your perfume is too expensive, take a look and see if it contains any of the following ingredients as they are sure to bump the price up! Keep in mind, we’re talking about the raw materials here!
Oud is also called Agarwood and is one of the rarest perfume ingredients, which also makes it one of the most expensive. It comes from the Agar tree, which has to be infected by a specific kind of mold because this causes the tree to release the resin known as oud. Only 2% of Agar trees in the world produce oud, which is why it’s so coveted.
As we mentioned earlier, ingredients such as ambergris and musk have unique origins and are now, mostly, synthetically made. Because the whales and deer usually die in the extraction, it is mostly illegal to obtain. However, you might find it in overseas perfume where the rules are laxer but as you can imagine, the price is extortionate!
Ambergris is known to wash up on shore from time to time. This is called ‘ethically farmed ambergris’ and is extremely expensive.
This is very often made synthetically and appears in as many as 80% of perfumes. Natural jasmine, however, is incredibly expensive because the production method is so intricate – the flowers are unbelievably delicate so they have to be specially transported and moved with the utmost care. It also takes around 2000 pounds of jasmine flowers to make just 1 pound of oil.
This is an even more expensive ingredient than jasmine; the production method is much more time-consuming. It takes 10,000 Bulgarian rose flowers to make 1 pound of oil! This is also made synthetically a lot of the time, which is a good thing otherwise perfumes would be much more expensive.
Orris is generally within the top three most expensive perfume ingredients in the world and it comes from the iris bulb. If you thought you needed a lot of jasmine and Bulgarian rose flowers to make the oil, this is nothing in comparison to orris. You’ll need 1 ton of iris bulbs (that have aged between 2-5 years) to make 4.5 pounds of oil!
What Else Makes A Perfume Unique?
We have talked a lot about different ingredients ranging from the common to the weird and wonderful. But is there anything else that can make a perfume unique?
Each individual person’s skin type will have an impact on the scent of the perfume. The dryness of your skin combined with how the molecules in the perfume interact with your skin can all cause subtle changes to the scent. This is why it’s always best to spray perfume onto your skin when testing it in a store.
You can also layer fragrances by spraying more than one scent together onto your skin. This is a great way of customizing your fragrance and Jo Malone specifically creates their perfumes to do just this. They are made with minimal ingredients so you can mix and match them to create the desired effect.
Tips For Making Unique Perfumes At Home
Now we have gained insight into the types of ingredients we might see in perfumes; it might make you consider making fragrances at home. It’s a great way to truly customize your perfume.
There are many different ways to make perfume depending on if you choose to use oils or flowers and what you use to dilute the formula with. Here are a few general tips you can use (in combination with lots of research) to get you on your way:
- Get some scales: It’s better to measure the ingredients (even oils) in grams rather than drops to ensure it’s as accurate as possible.
- Use reputable sellers: You’ll want good-quality ingredients that are industry-grade; it’s always best to get the best for what you can afford. It can be hard to source in small quantities so it’s best to do your research to find the best option.
- Plan: Have a think about the kind of scent you want to create, what ingredients you want in the base, middle and top notes and how strong you want it. And write the formula down!
- Test, test, test: Once you’ve created your formula, test it on a scent strip (rather than smell it from the container). Then re-formulate it and tweak it to your heart’s content and keep testing until you’re happy.
- Enjoy: It might take a few attempts to get it right but keep at it, it’ll be worth it in the end!